The Justice Department argued in a brief filed Monday that it should be permitted to substitute itself for former President Donald Trump as defendant in a defamation lawsuit brought by a longtime magazine columnist, E. Jean Carroll, who accused him of rape, continuing the argument it had initiated under the previous administration even as the White House has changed hands.
"Then-President Trump's response to Ms. Carroll's serious allegations of sexual assault included statements that questioned her credibility in terms that were crude and disrespectful," Justice Department lawyers wrote in a brief to the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals. "But this case does not concern whether Mr. Trump's response was appropriate. Nor does it turn on the truthfulness of Ms. Carroll's allegations."
Rather, the lawyers wrote, because they believe Trump was an employee of the government and that he acted "within the scope of employment," the department, rather than Trump personally, should serve as defendant in the case.
In submitting the brief Monday, the department continued the argument it has been making for months: that a president's comments are an official function of his job, even if they pertain to a personal matter. Since it first took that position, however, Trump has been replaced by President Joe Biden, and while the brief the department filed included plenty of unkind words regarding the former President's behavior, it will benefit Trump if it succeeds.
"Speaking to the public and the press on matters of public concern is undoubtedly part of an elected official's job," they wrote. "Courts have thus consistently and repeatedly held that allegedly defamatory statements made in that context are within the scope of elected officials' employment — including when the statements were prompted by press inquiries about the official's private life."
The White House said it hadn't been consulted by the Justice Department before the brief was filed.
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